US Navy seeks to use C-130J-30 in TACAMO mission

The US Navy (USN) intends to field Lockheed Martin’s C-130J-30 Super Hercules in the Take Charge and Move Out (TACAMO) airborne survivable nuclear command, control and communications (C3) mission, after it posted a solicitation for test aircraft on December 18.

The solicitation was posted onto the US government website,, by the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) TACAMO Program Office. It outlined the service’s plan to procure up to three stretched C-130J-30 airframes for testing and analysis purposes in Fiscal Year 2022/2023 (FY22/FY23). NAVAIR intends to award a sole source contract to Lockheed Martin, which will provide the aircraft along with relevant support equipment, logistics support, defensive systems and engineering services.

C-130J-30 [USAF/Senior Airman Donald Hudson] #1
The US Navy seeks to employ the stretched Lockheed Martin C-130J-30 Super Hercules in the Take Charge and Move Out (TACAMO) airborne survivable nuclear command, control and communications (C3) mission. The service announced that it intends to acquire three examples for testing and analysis purposes in FY22/23 on December 18, 2020. USAF/Senior Airman Donald Hudson

In the solicitation, NAVAIR said: “The Analysis of Alternatives (AoA) results indicated that the four-engine, militarised C-130J-30 is [an] optimally configured aircraft for performing the TACAMO mission. The characteristics of this airframe also maximise the operational deployability of the assets to austere environments. The C-130 is currently extensively fielded within the Department of Defense, and deployed at various bases that create operation, training and logistic support synergies for TACAMO execution.

“Lockheed Martin already has an established domestic production line that has the ability to produce test units for [the TACAMO Program Office] that will enable acceleration of the risk reduction and subsequent engineering and manufacturing development test program,” it added.

The USN’s TACAMO mission is currently covered by a fleet of 16 Boeing E-6B Mercury airborne C3 platforms. Based on the Boeing 707 commercial jet airliner, the Mercury first flew on February 19, 1987, and entered service with the USN in August 1989. The E-6B replaced the air force’s Boeing EC-135 fleet in the ‘Looking Glass’ nuclear command and control (C2) role before it also succeeded the Lockheed EC-130Q Hercules in the TACAMO mission in the early 1990s.

E-6B Mercury [USAF/Greg L Davis]
The US Navy currently employs 16 Boeing E-6B Mercury aircraft in the TACAMO airborne survivable nuclear C3 mission. USAF/Greg L Davis

The recent NAVAIR solicitation only divulged the USN’s plan to acquire three C-130J-30s for test purposes. It did not disclose whether or not the C-130J-30 would replace the E-6B Mercury, nor did it suggest how many aircraft it seeks to acquire for operational fielding or an in-service date. The Mercury is slated to remain in USN service until 2038, with the service already starting to lay the ground work for its replacement.